Discovering more about America’s wine regions has always been a personal interest of mine. And it’s encouraging when you find experts in the wine industry just as excited about the potential for wine in different parts of the country. Such was the case last January when I happened to bump into Doug Frost, a Kansas-based wine consultant, while at a wine symposium in Arizona. (Frost also happens to hold the distinction as one of only four individuals in the world to hold the titles of both Master of Wine [MW] and Master Sommelier [MS] concurrently.) I had traveled to Phoenix to learn more about Arizona wine for a book project I was researching on the wine regions of the American Southwest, which included a day at the annual AVA Wine Symposium. The one-day educational conference celebrates some of Arizona’s best producers while sharing trends and advancements in the industry with wine consumers. As it turns out, Frost was also in attendance. He had joined some wine-enthusiastic friends for the leisurely day to foster a growing interest in the evolution of Arizona wine.
While we only had a brief few minutes to catch up, I was intrigued by his enthusiasm for Arizona wine. So much so, that I followed up with him a few weeks later to talk a little more in depth about his experiences with the wines of Arizona, as well as New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas.
It’s no secret Frost has been a longtime advocate for American wine regions. In 1999, he helped establish the Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition, a national competition spotlighting wine from growing regions across the country. The event evaluates wines that have been preselected from tastings and competitions throughout America.
“To me, the idea of putting wines next to each other from each state was a better way to help each region learn how to improve,” says Frost. “Wines are tasted in a blind setting according to style or grape but intermingled among the various regions. So you may taste a Virginia Cabernet Franc next to a Colorado Cabernet Franc, but you’re simply evaluating the wine for its virtues based on that grape variety. The idea was to give everyone a level playing field, and after 20 years, I think we’ve made some small but measurable impact.”
Frost also collaborated with Washington Post wine columnist Dave McIntyre and Texas-based wine blogger Jeff Siegel to start the “Drink Local” movement about 15 years ago. The concept, which was largely promoted through Twitter, evolved to include annual wine conferences in a different state each year to cast a spotlight on different wine-producing states other than California, Washington, and Oregon.
“It was around the same time as the Farm to Table movement was trending, and a lot of us in the wine industry were wondering why the Hell everyone was only talking about buying local produce, meat, and vegetables, but not wine,” says Frost. “We tried to hammer at that question through media and events, including the Drink Local Wine conference, which was short-lived, but not without a good effort.”
Frost recalls the specific wine that changed his perspective on the potential for emerging American regions. It was a 1975 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon from Cold Creek Vineyards—easily one of Washington’s most iconic wines from a time when the state’s industry was in its infancy.
“It completely changed my view about what Washington wine could do at a time when no one was taking the state’s winemaking efforts seriously,” says Frost.
When I bumped into him in Arizona, we had just finished a couple of seminars spotlighting some of the state’s top producers, including Dos Cabezas Wineworks, Chateau Tumbleweed, Caduceus Cellars, Sand-Reckoner, Callaghan Vineyards, and Rune wines. Frost, who has had his eye on Arizona for a few years, was particularly excited about these wines.
“If I were going to have to pick one state in the Southwest that really has their act together in terms of making great wine across the industry, it would be Arizona. There’s just so much great wine there,” says Frost.
Over the years, he’s also witnessed key players in the Southwest, such as New Mexico’s Gruet, who have helped draw attention to the overall region. “Gruet was the first to really stand up to California and say, “I can do this, too!” And be really successful at it,” says Frost. “Though they make very little New Mexico-grown wine today, you can’t ignore the fact that what they have done has not only paved the way for New Mexico wine but all of the Southwest.”
Having lived in Fort Worth for several years, Frost has always had a conflicting feeling about the wines of Texas, which focused heavily on Bordeaux-based and other cooler climate varietals in its early years. But in recent years, he’s been encouraged to see a shift in thinking towards varieties better suited for the heat and arid conditions of the Lone Star state.
“Texas producers like Kim McPherson have made strides with warm-climate varieties like Tempranillo, Sangiovese, and Rhône varieties and these are the wines I look forward to tasting,” says Frost.
Further north in Colorado, most of the Centennial State’s growing regions are in the western part of the state, where conditions are warmer and drier than high in the Rocky Mountains. (The exception being the West Elks region, where vineyards are found at elevations higher than 6,000 feet.)
“I like Colorado wines a lot. They really have some great producers who are constantly battling frost and other weather catastrophes. When they can avoid that, they make really solid wines,” says Frost.
Indeed, the American Southwest has advanced significantly within the past 10 years in terms of quality and consistency. It’s an encouraging fact that wine professionals such as Frost are eager to share.
In a recent article from forbes.com, he was quoted as saying, “If there is a magic wand I could wave, it would be that every restaurant in America would start buying from local wineries. At least make sure they know what’s going on.”
With champions such as this and a commitment to quality from wine producers throughout the region, it’s only a matter of time before this magical wish becomes a reality.